Occupational Health & Safety Australia

A resource for small businesses to assist with OHS / WHS compliance.

OHS - Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in Australia applies across all industries, or anywhere that people are employed to work. This includes both the employee and the contractor. OHS in Australia has been around since 1956 when a magistrate ruled that the employer has a responsibility to provide a safe system of work.

Duty of Care

Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe system of work and employees have a duty of care to follow whatever directions they are given by the employer. This is some debate about whether OHS legislation has gone too far for employers. Whilst there may be some basis for this argument, many employers are not effectively giving their employees and contractors clear directions, nor are they ensuring that their directions are being followed.

When employers across Australia have become more effective at giving clear directions and implementing them, a reduction in workplace deaths and injuries will follow. Many larger companies have demonstrated this, however a large percentage of smaller employers do not have the resources to make the same changes as larger companies. As processes for directing and monitoring OHS policies and procedures become more efficient, the effectiveness of the smaller employers to provide safe systems of work will improve also.

OHS Consultants across Australia are charging a premium for their services to help companies comply with OHS legislation. OHS Australia has been developed to provide affordable resources to employers to make them available to both small and large companies.

For any OHS System to be effective, it needs to be in writing. Having your organisation's OHS policies and procedures in writing demonstrates exactly what has been explained to the employee or contractor and they can also sign off and commit to following the organisation’s OHS System.

Safe Work Method Statements

Safe Work Method Statements - commonly referred to as SWMS - are developed to improve workplace safety. They provide a safe system of work for Construction, Industrial, Mining and Manufacturing Industries and many more. Any Safe Work Method Statements should be developed after consultation with employees and contractors.

Often as part of a tender requirement, Safe Work Method Statements are required to be submitted. They can be purchased online and adapted to suit a specific company. To view a complete Safe Work Method Statement list, visit SafetyCulture.

Safe Work Method Statements should be accompanied by risk ratings for each activity. Each activity should have two ratings; a before and after rating. The before rating is the level of risk before the safety procedures are implemented for each element of the task. The after rating is the level of risk after the safety procedures are implemented.

OHS First Aid Kits

Bringing you the best in First Aid Kits for Workplaces across Australia. From Industrial First Aid Kits, to General Purpose, Vehicle First Aid Kits and basic packs. Currently in Australia each state has slightly different OHS legislation regarding the contents of a First Aid Kit. For more information on Workplace First Aid Kits click here.

Build your OHS System

Once you have begun to consider your risks and implemented improvements to reduce the hazards, you are on your way to developing a structured OHS System. Once a workplace realises what daily steps need to be taken in order to work safely, they then have the job of making sure everyone follows them. This is where a written OHS Policy Manual, or Safety Manual comes into play. A standard set of Safety Policies and Procedures relating to your workplace becomes an agreement for employees and contractors to adhere to whilst working. They should sign off on an OHS Policy Manual, and they should also sign off on each OHS Procedure that relates to their workplace responsibilities.

There are generally five steps to building an effective OHS Management System (OHSMS), and these steps form a continual cycle of improvement. Consultation is a key element of each step.

  1. Top management commitment and policy. The policy is a general plan of intent which guides or influences future decisions. It is the basis upon which measurable objectives and targets and the OHSMS is developed.
  2. Planning. Plan how to deliver the OHS policy, objectives and targets to ensure hazards appearing as a result of work activities are identified so that risks can be assessed and then controlled.
  3. Implementation. Implement the plan by developing the capabilities and support mechanisms necessary to achieve the OHS policy, objectives and targets.
  4. Measurement and evaluation. Measure, monitor and evaluate OHS performance, to determine the effectiveness of risk management, and if necessary take preventative and corrective action.
  5. Review and improvement. Review and continually improve the OHSMS, with the objective of improving OHS performance and building and maintaining a safety culture.

OHS Systems

Having an OHS System or specifically a "Safe System of Work" is a requirement that all employers across Australia and New Zealand have to comply with.

Developing OHS Systems in your workplace can seem overwhelming at first, but it can be much less daunting by breaking it down into bite sized pieces. Many OHS Consultants believe that you need to start your OHS Systems by creating a mountain of paper work covering every area of your business.

While documentation is important, you need to be practical. For example, if you have an engineering workshop with no OHS Systems in place, and your employees are tripping over equipment and materials, then start by cleaning up the workshop and re-organise it so it is easier to keep tidy.

Each company needs to conduct a basic risk assessment as to where their greatest dangers are, and how to minimise them. Once you start asking the right questions, continuing to develop an OHS System becomes more a way of life, rather than a chore. After all no employer wants an injury at their workplace.

Training & Licensing

Qualified OHS Professionals are in high demand in Australia. A recognised qualification in OHS can help boost your employment opportunities in some of the country’s fast growth industries. For online solutions for nationally accredited OHS training visit WorkSafe Australia.

Documents that are issued by a licensing authority in accordance with a National Standard, authorising a person to perform one or more classes of high risk work are available online. For more information on your most suitable licensing authorities please visit your state’s WorkCover or WorkSafe website.

OHS Systems Audit

Apart from having a written OHS Manual, the next step is to conduct an OHS Audit.

The aim of this is to simply create a step by step process to achieve a safe and healthy environment throughout the workplace.

A comprehensive OHS Audit will identify and prioritise areas for improvement throughout the company’s operations.

Once your OHS risks have been identified, you can develop a timeline and work through the steps one at a time.

Return to Work

Some organisations may employ a Return to Work Program. These programs are based on the philosophy that many employees can safely perform productive and transitional work as part of their recovery process from a prospective sickness or injury. Workers can benefit from a Return to Work Program by still being able to perform light duties so they can maintain an income while at the same time contributing meaningful work to the organisation.

Employers can benefit from a Return to Work Program by reducing the cost of potential claims, and training of replacement workers, which can result in the employers being more competitive. It demonstrates a respected value to their employees and helps to retain healthy and qualified workers. Return to work duties are generally temporary and designed to help transition an injured worker to eventually overtake their regular full-time duties in a safe and productive manner. Less hours or a lighter workload should be involved, and the worker should always have their progress monitored.

It is important to know when to safely return to work and it is always best to have the consent of a medical professional to do so.


Attempts to achieve Harmonisation - a process for developing greater consistency in work health and safety regulations - stretches as far back as the mid 1980s, without too much early success.

In 2008, Ministers agreed the use of model legislation was the most effective way to achieve harmonisation of work health and safety laws. As of January 2013, all Australian states and territories apart from Western Australia and Victoria have signed on to new Harmonised legislation.

The Harmonised states adopted the terminology Work Health and Safety (WHS), while the remaining states maintain Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) terminology. For more information on Harmonisation click here.